Wednesday, January 23, 2013

If you implement a Triennial Torah reading cycle well, what about Simchat Torah?

I thought it would be interesting to post my rendering of the vote about whether or not to retain Simchat Torah in the Reform Synod at Frankfurt in 1845.

The background is, of course, that the Reform rabbis were trying to implement liturgical reforms, to modernize the services, to both attract people and avoid repelling them, and do it in a way that was consistent both in Reform theory and in practice. So in this, the second of three such assemblies, held in Frankfurt A.M.[1]  between July 15 and 28, 1845, many questions were discussed. 

As part of the process of reforming, modernizing and streamlining services, the assembly had approved of implementing a Triennial cycle of reading the Torah. This would of course have the effect of shortening the Torah reading by one third which is something that people who look forward to Parshat Nitzavim can understand. Old sources showed that in ge'onic times (and later) the Torah was read and completed every three years, while our custom of reading it in one year, and celebrating Simchat Torah on the second day of Shemini Atzeret arose in Babylonia. The question therefore was, should Simchat Torah be celebrated only every three years? Or annually? Or at all? Here is what they said:
12th Question, 23 July 
President: Since the majority are in favor of the Triennial cycle for reading the Torah, a question arises: Can the second day of Schemini Atzereth, which until now was the day when the end of the Torah was read, and the Torah reading completed, be maintained? It was pointed out that the Torah describes the entire Sukkot as zeman simchoteinu, a time of joy, so as the Torah was the greatest joy of Israel, celebrating it as Simchath Torah was very suitable. 
A vote was requested, and here is is along with each rabbi's comments:  
Salomon: In the Hamburg Temple they celebrated Simchat Torah once every three years. 
Wechsler: Simchat Torah doesn't only signify that the Torah was ended, but is also a memorial to the great teacher Moses; the festival can be seen this way as well. (He is referring to the fact that we read of Moshe's death, with all of his accompanying praises on S"T.) 
Maier: Simchat Torah has the character of Yom Tov Sheini Shel Shemini Atzeret. This is when we read Vezot Habracha. (I guess he means to point out that it is the second day of Yom Tov and, hello, we are supposed to be against it.) 
It moves to a vote. 
Jolowicz: We should read Vezot Habracha once every three years, 
Lowengard: Likewise. Simchat Torah is unimportant as a memorial for Moses. This only comes as a consequence of reading Vezot Habracha
Sobernheim: Likewise. 
Einhorn: Read it every three years. 
Wagner: Likewise. 
Kahn: If we should read Vezot Habracha each year then we're guilty of inconsistency in theory. We should not say that the festival is a celebration of the Siyum. 
Philippson: Vezot Habracha should be read every three years. We already have a festival of joy for our possession of the Torah; Shavuot. 
A. Adler: Likewise. We should not allow a new dichotomy between teaching and life. 
Auerbach: Likewise. 
Süsskind: Likewise. The commemoration of Moses' death only developed from the reading of Vezot Habracha
Treunfels: Read Vezot Habracha yearly. 
Ben Israel: Likewise. 
S. Adler: I abstain from voting. 
Hoffmann: Read Vezot Habracha yearly. 
Güldenstein: Every three years. 
Herrheimer: Every three years. 
Hess: Yearly, because otherwise the communities would be opposed. 
Wechsler: Yearly, in memory of Moses, as long as Yom Tov Sheini is maintained. 
Geiger: Yearly, because otherwise you'd have to look for something new to lein for the day. Simchat Torah has importance as the final day of the festivals. 
Maier: Every three years. 
Salomon: Every three years. 
Herzfeld: Yearly, the festival was celebrated, as the president specified, because of the spiritual joy, and not for the reading of Vezot Habracha
Holdheim: Simchat Torah, as a day of significance arose late. In the original prayers it is not called as such. Only in the Piyutim is it called this. I therefore agree to reading Vezot Habracha every three years. However, the day as a memorial to Moses should be kept as long as Yom Tov Sheini is. 
Formstecher: Every three years. A memorial for the death of Moses is appropriate on 7 Adar. The Rejoicing of the Law is, as noted by Philippson, Shavuot. Rejoicing will still bring the people in. As it is, those who read the Torah the most are the least joyful, and those who are more forward-looking read the Torah the least. 
Gosen: Yearly. You can read Vezot Habracha again, just as other lessons from the law are repeated [=from time to time]. (i.e., even with a three year cycle) 
Jost abstains from voting. His personal opinion would be that the rabbis should not rob the people of a joyful celebration. But when joy comes about through inappropriate ways that harm the dignity of worship, the thing to do is to direct a nobler attitude in a better direction. (I am not sure why this is in the third person - perhaps they failed to transcribe his exact words. I think this means that he thinks that Simchas Torah excesses are not good, true, but the rabbis should not do away with it, but rather influence the people to celebrate it in a joyful, but more dignified manner.) 
Hirsch: Every three years. Simchat Torah is only a siyum (=conclusion to the Torah). Cannot sanction giving it a new meaning. We have made the decision for a three year cycle, and we have to take the consequences that come with it. 
President: Yearly. 
Conclusion: For the Triennial reading of Vezot Habracha and Bereischit we have 16, for the yearly reading we have ten. Three abstentions. 
President: I request that the Assembly also decide whether to retain the reading with the traditonal neginah (melody)...
[1] I just wanted to end with a little arcane note. I've recently been re-reading The Making of a Godol by Rabbi Nathan Kamenetsky and he included something in a note that, in part, inspired this post (which was also inspired, in the other part, by a good friend). Here is the note (p. 194):

As you can see, Rabbi Kamenetsky saw fit to add a small conclusion that he made, as we who make conclusions are wont to do. In his research he read of the Reform synods. Naturally most sources call "Frankfurt" simply "Frankfurt," even though in Germany there are two cities by that name. He happened to notice that the Encylopedia Judaica says that the Frankfurt synod was held in Frankfurt-am-Main, but he believes this is an error, because both Brunswick and Breslau are in eastern Germany. Frankfurt A.M., a major German metropolis, is in Central, maybe you can even say Western Germany, while Frankfurt-am-Oder is a small city in the east. So it makes sense that if two of the synods were in the eastern part of Germany, also the third.

The reasoning is sound, but however, there are many ways in which we can verify this, such as by reading the title page of the published proceedings of the synod, where we see plainly that it was in Frankfurt A.M., no matter the direction.

And even without such a proceeding, there would of course be other ways of verifying. Contemporary newspaper reports and other sources. Here's another example. This is the title page to Rabbi S. J. Rapoport (Shir)'s work against Reform, written in direct response to the Frankfurt synod:

As you can see, he addressed his remarks to the assembly of rabbis in Frankfurt-am-Main. Lest one think that maybe he, in Prague was mistaken, this was not only an open letter that may or may not have been sent to the assembly itself, but inside Rapoport also includes a letter he literally sent directly to the synod (dated 10 Tammuz/ July 15, the first day of the assembly).

In any case, my point is not to make a big deal about a wrong conjecture but to highlight the fact that there is a time and place for thinking very intently and cleverly about something and for just looking something up, or at least attempting to verify a conjecture from information that is readily available. Only in the absence of such information should one fill in the gap with a well-reasoned conjecture. 

Finally, I wanted to reproduce a great phrase from this book. Rapoport, in his letter to Jost, is deploring the fact that Reform threatens to tear the Jewish people apart, and so he refers to the fact that the Protestant Reformation did just that to the Christians in Europe. He writes that it isn't as if one split will happen and then that's it. No, after one sect emerges from the main group, then new sects dissent from those and so on, such as what happened with "איזה דיססענטערס בבריטאניא."


  1. Yes, they were subject to אקסספלוסיו דיססענטערי.

  2. Hahaha. Don't forget the גונפאוודער פלאט. The קאטהאליקוס בבריטאניא tried to make an explosive stand too.

  3. "... implementing a Triennial cycle of reading the Torah. This would of course have the effect of shortening the Torah reading by one third ..."

    I always assumed that the Torah readings were sequential, but someone told me that really, they read the first third of, say, Naso one year, the second third the next year, and the third third in the third year. I thought that sounded very strange, but could it be accurate?

    1. It could be that this is what Reform shuls eventually settled on doing. It makes more sense than not, actually, although it is kind of pathetic if you think about it. Although I can understand it. But you can see here that it is not what anyone had in mind.

  4. Phil, I'm fairly certain that this is what contemporary American congregations that read the triennial cycle do.

    Personally, I think it makes no sense to read the Torah out of order, and certainly the original triennial cycle was in order, but that's neither here nor there.

  5. What did traditional communities which read on triennial cycles normally do about Simchat Torah? I recall that Benjamin meTudella relates that when he visited Egypt, one of the communities there was still reading on a triennial basis

    1. There was no such thing as Simchas Torah. That's kind of the point; it arose in Bavel, where they had an annual reading cycle. There is still an echo of it in the weirdness of the fact that in Israel Shemini Atzeres *is*, of necessity, also Simchas Torah. At least in golus you can do it the second day and not totally eclipse Shemini Atzeres as a real holiday - as *the* real holiday.

  6. Superintendant Chalmers12:25 PM, January 24, 2013

    I would guess that an advantage of reading a third of the parsha in the first year, the second third in the second year etc., is that you would still have a Shabbos Parshas Bereishis, Shabbos Parshas Noach etc. that is consistent with what the rest of the world is doing. As opposed to having three Shabbos Bereishis, three Shabbos Noachs in a row etc. and not being able to easily distinguish.

    "I'm giving kiddush Parshas Bereishis."
    "Oh great, which one?"

    Whether this was an actual consideration, I have no idea...

    1. Right. This is why I speculated above that "It could be that this is what Reform shuls eventually settled on doing. It makes more sense than not, actually, although it is kind of pathetic if you think about it. Although I can understand it."

      It does make sense, because it allows the entire Jewish people to keep to the yearly cycle and all that. The implementation is just strange. However, it would be a real cop-out if they just did the first third and never got around to the second and third parts, so I guess this is the best, most logical compromise.

  7. Did you laugh to yourself while you writing this post? A very funny post. Love the breezy paraphrases of the German proceedings.

    1. Sounds much, much more solemn in German.

      But yes, the whole thing is kind of ridiculous. In a good way. "So, gang, what do we do with Simchas Torah" - sorry, Thauroh?

  8. "This would of course have the effect of shortening the Torah reading by one third"

    In fact, by more than two thirds.

    1. Of course, a typing mistake. Thank you.

    2. Correction:

      A true triennial cycle would reduce it by two thirds. The historic triennial cycle was three-and-a-half years, and that cycle would make each "sedra" even shorter.

      Can anyone shed any light on the theory I saw somewhere that the "Four Parshios" are a relic of the 3.5yr cycle?

    3. See "The Torah Reading Cycle, Past and Present" by Norman A. Bloom in Journal of Jewish Music and Liturgy 18 (1996) (link.

    4. Fascinating article, need some time to digest it, and to wade through the footnotes.

      Not obviously apparent how all of the "4 Parshios" could ever have been "stand alone" readings on a Shabbos, being too short for 7 aliyos.

      Interesting that as late as the sixteenth century there were parallel one- and three-year cycles extant in Egypt. One wonders if the 3 year shul was particularly busy on the week the one year shul was leyning Matos-Mas'ei...

    5. NW11, the chart in the Encyclopaedia Judaica under "Triennial Cycle" maps it all out, including how the four parshiot fit in.

  9. Replies
    1. Why can't I read things like that? Is it because I'm not in the US?

    2. Yes. It's because Google hasn't figured out that if it was printed in 1893 it is in the public domain all over the world.

      Email me and I'll send it.

  10. I just want to point out that he means Dissenters with a capital D, which is why he transliterates it, rather than translating it, as he would have done had he meant dissenters with a small d.

  11. This is what happens when Reform start implementing minhagim, or something that resembles them. It seems like they were trying to be able to celebrate Simchat Torah annually and at the same time keep with the original kriyah (weekly Torah portion). From the entire assembly no one raised the question "Hey, guys, technically we're not "doing away" with ST because in the triennial cycle there is no ST"? More so, there was no Vezos HaBerach during the period where the triennial cycle was practiced! These names of Parshios came much later! Numerous other rabbis devised their own stopping points and they never seemed to have this "Vezos HaBeracha predicament" or "Moshe Rabbeinu Memorial" that so disturbed the Reform. Although, interestingly enough, they didn't either seem to be bothered that neighboring communities would be holding at a different point. This wasn't so bothersome both halachically (for the reasons offered) and socially. However the Reform, naturally, mixed things up and came up with new ideas - ze'er sham ze'er sham and voila, a new Torah-reading-cycle. This definitely wasn't what R' Moshe of Brussels had in mind here (#54) in his Chazeh HaTenufah, an abridged responsum of his teacher, the Rosh. (Once mentioning this saint, I may as will put it out there: most authorities place him as a student of the Rosh, mainly because of his saying so himself in the introduction to his sefer, as the Chida points out. My problem is however, he is also mentioned in a responsa from the Rambam who died about fifty years before his rebbe the Rosh was even born. Were there two ר׳ משה מברושיילשs?)

    In case anyone is serious; no, in the time of Chazal they didn't read a third of a Parsha, though I can't vouch for Minhag dk"k Reform. Back then they read a 'Seder', of which there were [the much debated] 154, per week. Not a 'perek' and not a 'Sedra'. Also, there was no worrying about where other communities were up to because they all had [pretty much] the same pace. There was no "this week we're leining BeShalach". It was "we have to roll to Seder 15". So I guess they'd likewise remark "I'm giving kiddish Seder 15" or "on BeShalach Pharo" (topics not names). To state the obvious for many here, lest anyone else make the same mistake as I did at first, the "Hoffmann" listed at this assembly was not R' Dovid Zvi (Melamed LaHoil). It bothered me: what was he doing at the Reform get-together and even if, why is that all he had to say? So to clarify the issue - it wasn't him, he was 2 y.o. at the time. Who it was - I don't know, I'm sure MFM can help us, but if the dates are accurate it wasn't him or Jacob Hoffmann.

    1. forgot the link to Chazeh HaTenufah:

    2. What has the Chazeh Hatenufah got to do with the topic at all? He is not talking about the sidrot themselves, but about the minhagim on when to join two of them and when to separate them.

    3. The topic of the post was about a movement that wanted to do away the the accepted practice of completing the Torah reading-cycle annually and instead reinstate the "original" triennial reading-cycle - agree?

      Now the reason for my quoting the CH was two-fold: 1) to bring an example of those who discussed the weekly Torah reading arrangement and yet did not try integrating the two practices together, and 2) to highlight the words of a Rishon of which are evident that it wasn't uncommon for different communities to have different weekly readings. The latter was in relation to the point raised that their community would be holding at one place while others would be elsewhere. You may disagree but, for what it's worth, I see the relevance.

      To be honest, I'm not quite sure I understood what you meant by "the minhagim on when to join two of them and when to separate them". You mean joining two of "the sidrot themselves"? IMHO he is talking about the "new" phenomenon of having what we'll call Parshiot.

    4. Not new at all. He is talking about the same annual cycle that we have, NOT the triennial one. And there is no hint that these sedras, the same ones we have, are in any way flexible. He is simply saying that the choice of which ones to join in order to complete the Torah in a year is not misinai, it was established by each local rav as he saw fit, so if the local minhag doesn't obey the "rules" that are found in various seforim then so much the worse for the rules. There's no need to change the local minhag to fit the "rules".

      So I don't understand what you mean by "he did not try integrating the two practices together". What two practices?

      Note that this is by city or country; he makes no mention of different shuls in the same place reading different things, because minhagim were set by place, not by shul.

    5. "Not new at all. He is talking about the same annual cycle that we have, NOT the triennial one"

      Aha, so you clearly are under the impression that I thought the CH was referring to the triennial cycle. Pray tell then, what did I mean when I wrote that "he is talking about the "new" phenomenon of having what we'll call Parshiot"? Parshiot of a triennial cycle? But he explicitly writes "the arrangment is so that the reading of the whole Torah can be completed each year"! V'im timtzah lomar that you figured I may have missed it or forgotten that line, how could I have understood the rest of his words [which I clearly DID understand as one can see from my earlier comment] and think that he is talking about the triennial cycle? Consequently, I called it "new" because we aren't sure, at least I'm not, when exactly these Parshios were arranged, but presumably, back in his day it wasn't one of those old practices where people were so accustomed to it that they never bothered asking "why".

      "So I don't understand what you mean by "he did not try integrating the two practices together"."

      But where I wrote "Numerous other rabbis devised their own stopping points... Although, interestingly enough, they didn't either seem to be bothered that neighboring communities would be holding at a different point.", this you did understand and yet maintained that I thought he was discussing the triennial cycle?

      "What two practices?"

      By now it should be obvious; the triennial and annual cycles.

  12. Halacha mandates that the Torah more or less be read in order, and the true Eretz Yisroel triennal cycle reading read this way. Over the protests of some Halachically concious colleagues, the Conservative movement approved a system in which one third of the parshas hashavua is read each year instead of going by sedras. See

    Ploni 1123

  13. Ovadya, a very minor point, but people who read in the triennial cycle also had names for the sdarim, much as we do, with the first substantive word or phrase giving the name of the sedra.

    I learned this from Rav Mordechai Breuer z"l (who said, in the context of the ten plagues, that they used to have a parsha named "Hashkem"). There are also hints to this practice from the various piyyutim composed for specific parshiyot. (There is speculation that the piyyut "Vayhi bachatzi halayla" that we say at the seder was originally composed for Shabbat Vayhi Bachatzi Halayla; sorry I don't have a source for this.)

    1. Precisely! That's why I was medakdek to write in parenthesis "topics not names" - i.e. "BeShalach Paro" and not "BeShalach". My point is that, ad kama she'yadi yadi keiha magas, I have yet to come across evidence of universally accepted names for the Parshiot. I'd be thrilled to be shown otherwise. I wouldn't be surprised if by now some scholar researched this topic thoroughly although damning evidence - I wonder. I always wonder who specifically, when and why were the names we have today the "chosen ones"? Granted, many communities had fairly similar names, but universally accepted - lo mashma hachi. Probably at some point and for obvious reasons they just came to be the accepted ones with a word here and a word there falling to the wind.

      As an interesting aside, the famous Rabbi Chaim Cohen (known as "HaChalban") is quoted by his student, R' Yehuda Sheinfeld, in the latter's Osri LaGeffen (vol. 8, pg. 337) as saying: one who does not know how to learn even simple texts should say the names of the Parshiot and of the 24 books, that will be considered for him Torah study. For the Merciful wants our heart (pure intention/devotion).



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